Magdalena Mihaylova: The price of the Super Bowl

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 6:12pm

Sunday night at 6:30 p.m., the nation came together to watch a beloved American tradition: the Super Bowl. I, however, was buried in my English homework deep within the Stacks. I considered this to be my own method of protest. It served as my mini-boycott against what I believe is a capitalistic, violent and deadly sport.

Not that my protest made any difference. Over 111 million people tuned in to The Super Bowl last year, and this year viewership peaked around 103 million. It is a key element of American society: People eat, sleep and breathe football. The NFL receives a massive viewership—even more, it makes a lot of money. Franchise values have increased 30 percent over the last seven years to $1.2 billion. Annual revenue is at $9.2 billion. They have immeasurable sponsors and partnerships. Additionally, the NFL dominates television — out of the top 10 most watched TV programs in 2012, the NFL held the first eight spots. It is watched and loved by all demographics of society, regardless of race, gender or class. If you’re American, you most likely enjoy football.

Despite its successes, new and disturbing studies on brain degeneration in football players have shaken the nation. But these findings are only new in their exposure, not in their discovery. Although it seems obvious that repeated, aggressive pounding of 200-pound bodies will lead to health concerns, it was only in 2009 when the NFL officially acknowledged the effects of long-term and repeated concussions. More than that, it was only in 2016 when the connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, was admitted by the NFL’s senior adviser for health and safety. During the dillydallying of this information's release, countless former and current players have died due to the sport they love. These are players who were talented, dedicated to and passionate for a game whose consequences were not fully revealed. They accepted football’s outward roughness and injury, but were unaware of its inward and long-term consequences.

The players cannot be entirely blamed for joining a sport that is so obviously harmful. The NFL lied for years, omitting information about its dangers and placing all responsibility on the medical community. But researchers have been suggesting the relation between football and brain damage since 1994. The connection has just always been disputed by the League. The problem lies in the slow but painful development of disease; many of the players don’t experience symptoms until years after they have retired. In the meantime, more players get injured, and medical arguments lose steam and credibility.

For example, when former Pittsburgh Steelers player Terry Long committed suicide, brain analysis demonstrated that he had CTE; however, the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee claimed that the connection between his suicide, CTE and football was “purely speculative.” But it’s not just the medical experts, such as the MTBI committee, that undermine the significance of these findings. Coaches are guilty of encouraging players to continue to play despite presenting obvious concussion symptoms. For example, New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson was sent back on the field, against medical caution, just four days after his concussion.

We cannot expect players to create cautionary measures for themselves. Football is their job; they must perform well for financial reasons, to maintain celebrity status and to follow the passion that makes them successful in the first place. It is the duty of the league to protect them; a simple acknowledgment of the danger of concussions is different and less assertive than exposing the long-term effects that come with the sport. The NFL needs to be clear to budding and seasoned players alike: If you play, and if you play long and hard, you have a high risk of developing CTE.

Committees like the MTBI cannot serve effectively if they are clouded by bias; many of the members were simultaneously physicians for professional teams. Their denial was justified by what they claim is confusing and unfamiliar research. Andrew Tucker, MBTI member and Baltimore Ravens physician, once stated, "the picture is not really complete until we have the opportunity to look at the same group of people over time." This mentality is outrageous, as it basically claims a willingness to let people die before constructive measures can be taken.

With growing knowledge and confession by the NFL, a certain responsibility also falls into the hands of the fans. As a person who enjoys watching soccer, I know how difficult it can be to turn your back on something that not only brings you entertainment, but memories and a sense of community. NFL fans will not just be giving up football if they stop watching: They will lose the atmosphere and culture that comes along with it. I believe that this is a minor price to pay. Otherwise, they are simply accomplices in a greater crime. The NFL cannot continue neglecting the truth if they start to lose viewers over it, so we must demand for them to change. Show your outrage and skip the Super Bowl next year.  Delete your fantasy football account. Do not be complicit in what is an obvious and glorified death sentence for many young, unaware and devoted men. Despite the overwhelming presence of the NFL in American society, we are in control of its success. If we display our distaste, we won’t destroy an old tradition: We will create a new and important standard for sports.

 

Maggie Mihaylova can be reached at mmihaylo@umich.edu